Airshow London 2016: The Static Displays

This year was an exciting one in the Canadian airshow scene, thanks to the return of Airshow London! Growing up, I always heard stories from my parents about London’s legendary airshow, which was huge in the ’90s and which attracted aircraft from both Canada and the US. I remember seeing photos my parents took of aircraft like the F-117 Nighthawk, a stealth bomber developed by the secretive Skunk Works, and beasts like the F-4 Phantom. Aircraft like these just aren’t seen in Canada; yet they could be seen at Airshow London. However, due to one reason or another, the airshow that was so popular and exciting in the ’90s came to an end, before I even got to see it. At every airshow my family has attended since, my parents have reminisced about the incredible experience Airshow London offered. It became quite legendary in my family, and my brother and I were always jealous. Imagine our elation when we heard that in 2016, Airshow London was to return!

Although we were initially skeptical, as the airshow drew closer and more performers were confirmed, it was clear that Airshow London 2016 was indeed to be a return to the glory of the ’90s! Dozens of planes were to be on show, including the USAF’s most precious and high-tech jet; the F-22 Raptor. Needless to say, nothing was going to stop us from seeing this airshow!! My mum and I spent the weekend at a campground nearly bordering the airport– which turned out to be the best accommodation ever. Planes began arriving at the airport on Friday night, and some even seemed to do impromptu routines before the show began.

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A CT-114 Tutor of the Snowbirds right over our campsite.

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It was so exciting to hear the jets overhead and try to catch sight of them through the trees!

My mum and I sat in our tent and were reading each other trivia as it got dark; and we could hear commercial and airshow traffic still coming in to the airport. That added to the excitement– I couldn’t wait to see all these aircraft that I was hearing! Around 22:00, we heard something new. It was the sound of rotors. It was quite loud, and we were sure it must be overhead but it only got louder and louder! Soon it was deafening and we could feel the ground shaking– it must have been a huge helicopter, and it must have been low! Whatever it was came overhead a second time, and it was actually quite scary because we couldn’t see it; we could only hear and feel the power coming from it.

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There were a few choppers at London, but they were small and not terribly loud (relatively speaking!). This MH-53E Sea Dragon of the US Navy has to have been what flew over us late on Friday!

The Sea Dragon is a less-common variant of the Super Stallion; America’s largest helicopter. It is also related to the Pave Low helicopter, which those of younger generations may know from Modern Warfare 3. The Super Stallion and its variants are often used for heavy-lift duties; with an external payload of 36,000 lbs they can easily transport pairs of Humvees and even CH-47 Chinooks– which are not exactly small helicopters themselves!

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The main rotor assembly of the Sea Dragon. At work at Mitsubishi, I get to see plenty of cars disassembled which is very cool. I only wish I could get a closer look at the mechanical parts of an aircraft like this!!

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This chopper is the definition of imposing. It was incredible!

I also got to see some old favourites on the tarmac– like the Harvard. Used as a trainer during World War II, the Harvard has always been my favourite plane. I adore the distinctive yellow livery, the snubbed nose, the growling sound… Someday I am going to fly one of these!!

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The Harvard is just so nice!

Along with the familiar planes, there were many which were much more exotic. One was a B-1 Lancer bomber from Texas! The B-1 is a really elegant aircraft; nothing like the monstrous B-52 Stratofortress it was originally meant to replace. It is a supersonic variable-geometry aircraft which during the Cold War was capable of carrying nuclear ordnance; and although its role has changed greatly throughout its life, it remains a reliable and versatile heavy bomber.

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Although the B-1 is a large aircraft (its extended wingspan is 137 feet), it’s also very beautiful

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Close-up of the variable-sweep wing where it meets the fuselage. Here the wings are unswept; a configuration which is better suited to low speed performance.

The Americans really pulled out all the stops for Airshow London– without them, it wouldn’t have been half the show it was. The USAF, US Navy, US Coast Guard, and US National Guard were all represented. At the static displays, the aircrew were on hand to talk to visitors about both their aircraft and their own personal experiences in them; which gave the airshow a human side.

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A US Navy E-2C Hawkeye, quite an unusual-looking plane.

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The radar dome mounted on the Hawkeye’s fuselage is what gives this aircraft its unique early warning capabilities. The multiple vertical stabilisers are another unusual distinguishing feature.

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A compact yet deadly F-16 Fighting Falcon; developed in the 1970s but still an extremely common fighter in air forces around the world.

Many of the static displays brought back memories– there was a KC-135 Stratotanker, of which I’d seen a few in Maine several years ago. There was also a US Navy T-45 Goshawk, which is a modified version of the BAE Hawk. Hawks are used extensively as training aircraft in the UK (they’re also used by the famous Red Arrows), and I have great memories of seeing them flying over the fields and valleys of Yorkshire.

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My dad and brother admiring the long-lived Stratotanker. It’s been in service for over 50 years, and is still the workhorse which refuels the jet fighters so essential to the USAF.

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This plane would look nicer with RAF roundels on it, but it’s a lovely little aircraft!

And of course there were jets galore. The Royal Canadian Air Force only operates one fighter jet (the CF-18 Hornet), and it was so cool to see the array of fighters brought by the Americans. Although they’re all built on the same premise, they’re all so different and so beautiful!

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The F-15 Eagle is an awesome-looking plane, built for air superiority and one of the most successful planes of the modern era.

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Two CF-18s, on the tarmac preparing for a flight to the nation’s capital.

There are always unique, specialised aircraft to be found at airshows. At London we got to see a Red Bull Air Racing plane, which has to be the most manoeuvrable thing around. And there was also a Jet Provost, which is essentially the trainer version of the ground-attack BAC Strikemaster.

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This racer is flown by Pete McLeod, a home-grown pilot who competes with the greatest aerobatics pilots in the world.

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Although retired now, the Jet Provost was an important jet trainer for the RAF during the Cold War.

Based on the static displays alone, Airshow London was a spectacle! But of course, airplanes are built to fly and that is the focus of my next Airshow London post. I hope you enjoyed this one and will watch for the next!

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2012 Borden Airshow: The Flying Displays

CFB Borden’s most recent airshow was in 2012, and while I am impatiently awaiting the next one, I often reminisce about 2012’s amazing show. It was a perfect weekend for an airshow; with clear and sunny skies, and a gentle wind. And the show’s lineup was just as promising as the weather, with warbirds and modern planes alike set to perform!

We (my brother, father and I are all aviation enthusiasts) arrived at the show early, as a surprising number of other visitors did as well! As we queued for our tickets, some Canadian Forces parachutists made a jump overhead. I can’t remember what type of plane dropped them- it might have been a C-130 Hercules- but it was a very impressive and patriotic display, and the parachutists carried a giant Canadian flag with them on their jump.

Parachute Borden

The Canadian flag flying proudly

The show began with performances from two wonderful planes of the past in quick succession. First came an F-86 Sabre, the compact post-war jet fighter which was used by both Canada and the US during the Cold War period. It’s a good-looking plane, with swept wings and a rather pugnacious snubbed nose which accommodates the intake for its turbojet engine.

Borden F-86

The Canadair Sabre was used only until 1962 by the RCAF, but it was used by other countries such as Pakistan up until 1980

Next came a Hawker Hurricane, which was used by the World War II-era RAF alongside its better-known counterpart, the Supermarine Spitfire. The Hurricane and Spitfire are very similar in age and appearance; but the Hurricane is about six months older and its fuselage looks slightly swollen and hunched compared to the Spitfire. Although I do prefer the Spitfire, it was neat to see another noteworthy RAF aircraft in the air.

Hurricane Borden

Although not quite so graceful as the Spitfire, this Hurricane is an attractive aircraft

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The Hurricane was also fearsome in its own right, claiming 60% of RAF air victories during the Battle of Britain

After the Hurricane had vacated the sky, a familiar sight around CFB Borden took its place. I live close to Borden, and I periodically see a CH-146 Griffon helicopter flying around the area. The Griffon’s performance at Borden was much more lively than its everyday flights- I was actually surprised by all the manoeuvres it was making!

Huey, Tutors Borden

The Griffon did lots of extremely low-level flight over the nearby runway, which was exciting!

Huey Borden

I love helicopters, and even though I’ve never had a ride in one I hope to learn to fly one someday! After the Mi-24 Hind, the Griffon would be my chopper of choice!

The next performer really caught us off guard, along with most other people at the show! We were in a tent, waiting to look at some standard-issue Canadian Forces small arms, and then there was a dull, distant rumble audible in the sky. We wasted no time in rushing outside, and made it out just in time to see a very low CF-18 scream over the tent! It was an artful and awe-inspiring entrance; and as I started to laugh with delight, all the surrounding toddlers burst into tears from the noise. That’s quite an amusing memory for me!

F-18 Borden

A gear-down, upside-down pass is customary to the CF-18’s airshow routine. It really looks unnatural!

The CF-18 Hornet then went on to put on a fantastic display, with several other high-speed passes and many spiralling manoeuvres that showed its prowess in the air. Nothing compared to its entrance, however- it was deliberately unexpected and it was one of the best experiences ever!

F-18 Borden

The CF-18 is fast, manoeuvrable, and well-armed. It’s equipped with a 20 mm M61 Vulcan, which is a 6-barrel Gatling gun

I was sad to see the Hornet finally leave, but it was followed by the Harvards which remain one of my favourite airshow acts of all time. And I had a great view of them- the Borden airshow’s static displays are right alongside an old runway, over which the aircraft perform.

Harvards Borden

The Harvards are such nice, dependable planes with great aerobatic capabilities!

All of the performers at Borden in 2012 were amazing, and it was a fabulous day. I didn’t even mind that I got a sunburn which lasted for a month and a half!! I do hope that Borden will put on another airshow before long, because it always ends up being a special show.

The Mighty Hercules

This post is about the incredible C-130 Hercules military aircraft- but don’t worry, it’s not going to be a flavourless list of specifications and figures. Although I’d probably find such a list interesting, I’ll restrain myself! Instead, this post will focus on a fortuitous day in June 2012; when I saw a Hercules up close, and most unexpectedly!

I’d just landed at London International Airport (located in Ontario’s London), where I was picked up by my grandparents. It’s about a half-hour drive through verdant countryside to my grandparents’ house, and as we drove my eyes (as usual) kept wandering to the sky. I’m always on the lookout for airplanes… well, my attention was rewarded that day by the sight of a mammoth military plane in the sky! At once, I recognized it to be a C-130 Hercules; the transport mainstay of the Royal Canadian Air Force for the past fifty years! The Hercules really is an amazing and versatile aircraft, and it’s been one of my favourite planes ever since I learned of its existence.

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The most common planes I see are Cessnas, or the occasional Learjet or Pilatus. Seeing a Hercules is a rarity!

I watched the Hercules from the car for awhile, but before long it was out of sight. Fortunately, my grandpa loves planes just as much as I do, so we continued on to the local municipal airport- just in time to see the Hercules finish up its landing and taxi towards us!

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What a sight this was!

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There was an entire field between us and the Hercules at this point- but it was loud nonetheless!

I could honestly not believe my luck! I’ve seen so many fantastic aircraft in completely random places that I think they must follow me around… from a pair of B-52s while camping in New York to F-15s in the UK, I keep seeing unusual aircraft wherever I go.

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The Hercules eventually parked on the tarmac, and I saw its crew exit and walk around. One of the crew was a woman, and I was very envious- I kept thinking that that should be me!

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The Herc is a big aircraft! It has a wingspan of 132 feet, and a payload of 45,000 pounds. That equates to 64 paratroopers, 6 pallets, or even two armoured personnel carriers!

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Although the Hercules first flew in 1954, it’s been continually upgraded since then. This model is an older variant; and Canada now operates seventeen newer C-130Js

Seeing this wonderful aircraft made for an afternoon of awe for me. It’s a dream of mine to one day fly in a Hercules, and I’m totally awestruck every time I see one. However, since then I’ve never seen one quite so unexpectedly, and this was a day I will always remember!

The Yorkshire Air Museum

My 2011 trip to the UK was pretty legendary- I climbed a Welsh mountain, watched a USAF F-15 on its take-off run, shopped at Selfridges, and visited so many castles and country houses that I can’t even remember them all. But the memories I recall most fondly, and which educated me the most, are those of my visits to various military and aviation museums. These museums seem to be almost as plentiful as pubs are in the UK, and one that I really loved was the Yorkshire Air Museum.

Located on the former site of RAF Elvington near York, the Yorkshire Air Museum has an awesome array of vehicles and, especially, aircraft. An imposing Chieftain main battle tank guards the car park, and gives visitors an idea of the advanced and unique equipment held by the museum.

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The Chieftain was in service with the UK from the mid-60s until 1995

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A replica Spitfire- the original R6690 flew in the Battle of Britain but was shot down over London in 1940. Its pilot, Pilot Officer Gaunt, was sadly killed.

This museum was memorable for me because it had close to a dozen aircraft I’d never seen before; and that I haven’t seen since! One was a member of the fabled V-bomber trio- the gorgeous and gigantic Handley Page Victor. The Victor played an important role during its lifetime, as it comprised part of the UK’s Cold War nuclear deterrent.

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The Victor is an unmistakeable design, with its T-tail and elegantly-integrated intakes. However, back then I lacked the aviation knowledge I now have…

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…and I continually confused it with this aircraft, the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod!

I was delighted to also see a Harrier GR.3 here! I’ve always been fascinated by this truly gravity-defying jump jet, and it was so neat to see one again. The GR.3 is of the first generation of Harriers, and was the precursor to the British Aerospace-built GR5, GR7, and GR9 models. GR.3s served alongside Sea Harriers in the Falklands War, and provided vital air support as ground forces went on the attack.

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This GR.3 would have been built in the ’60s or ’70s. Click here for more photos of this groundbreaking aircraft

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The Panavia Tornado is another aircraft I already knew and loved. It is currently being used by the RAF to attack ISIS targets in Iraq

I learned a lot during my time at the Yorkshire Air Museum- there were so many planes that might have looked familiar, but that I really knew nothing about. I did my best to learn their names and some facts about them, and it was one of the most enjoyable and informative museum visits I’ve ever had!

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This is the English Electric Lightning- an early jet-powered aircraft, it had fantastic performance but (unsurprisingly) limited range

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With folding wings typical of carrier-based aircraft, the Blackburn Buccaneer was designed to be a nuclear-capable maritime strike aircraft. Paint schemes ranged from the camouflage seen here to an anti-flash white livery for nuclear missions

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The museum has a second Buccaneer- this one is a sandy colour, as it was used in the Gulf War

It was interesting to see a Canadian T-33 Silver Star displayed, beside an original World War II hangar and a prominent Union Jack. By the time I visited the museum, I’d been in the UK for several weeks; and although I didn’t really miss Canada, I did miss my dog! So it was neat to see a reminder of Canada.

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The aging buildings create such a wonderful, atmospheric backdrop for old aircraft like the T-33

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An ungainly Fairey Gannet- this aircraft is a specialized Airborne Early Warning variant; note the radar dome beneath the fuselage

Many of the Yorkshire Air Museum’s aircraft are displayed outside, but there was also a large hangar containing many different aircraft. The showpiece inside was undoubtedly the resident Handley Page Halifax bomber! This Halifax was reconstructed from parts of various original planes, and is a beautiful example.

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The Halifax was one of the wartime RAF’s four-engined heavy bombers; similar to the better-known Avro Lancaster

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This WACO Hadrian CG-4A was an American-made glider, used extensively during the invasion of Sicily, Operation Market Garden, and D-Day airborne landings

After looking through the hangar, it was back outside again- and it was like I stepped right into the 1940s! As I mentioned, the Yorkshire Air Museum is on the former site of RAF Elvington, which was used heavily during WWII. Many of the original buildings are intact, and the museum has done a great job of retaining the wartime feel of the location.

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I always think of the C-47 Skytrain as an American plane, but (as shown here) the RAF operated it as well

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It was so amazing to think that these buildings stood during WWII, and were hubs for the defence of Britain and its Allies

I walked among the buildings and hangars for a little while, and it was such a fantastic experience. My imagination was going wild- except for my modern dress and the presence of a bunch of picnic tables, I could have been in the ’40s. Speakers on one of the buildings were even playing appropriate music; in typically stoic British fashion, ditties by George Formby were being played.

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A collection of beautiful camouflaged WWII-era buildings

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An Austin Champ truck, along with a bunch of bicycles in a garage

The atmosphere of the museum grounds was nostalgic and quiet, so it really felt like just a memory. Although the olive drab buildings and ancient aircraft were still standing, long gone was the bustle of the war. A further memorial to the days of the war and the sacrifices of those people who lived through them was found in the museum’s RAF Memorial Chapel; located just beside a gorgeous memorial garden.

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The chapel pays homage to various squadrons and associations, and is a place of peace and remembrance

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The memorial garden was planted with roses and shrubs dedicated to both units and individuals; which mixed wonderfully with the wreaths of poppies near the memorial

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A lone destroyed propeller is a fitting tribute to the glorious dead

I think about the Yorkshire Air Museum an awful lot. Granted, it’s not the only museum to have original wartime buildings and an undeniable ’40s atmosphere- IWM Duxford is so original that it has been used as a filming location for various movies. But Duxford was teeming, and hordes of tourists and holiday-makers don’t really contribute to a feeling of wartime nostalgia. The Yorkshire Air Museum, on the other hand, was secluded and peaceful; which added to my enjoyment of it. I haven’t been to Yorkshire since that trip in 2011- but I know that next time I visit, I’ll have to visit this museum again.

2013 Great Lakes International Airshow

Since there aren’t many airshows happening in the depths of winter, of late I’ve found myself continually revisiting photographs and memories from airshows past! Although I really miss summer, the season of airshows, it’s fun to look back at great airshows past and to eagerly anticipate the coming airshow season!

One of the best airshows I’ve been to was the 2013 Great Lakes International Airshow at St. Thomas Municipal Airport. St. Thomas is an old railway hub and is also my home town; and though it only has a small airport and a population of around 30,000, the biannual airshow is always fantastic!

St. Thomas Municipal Airport is situated a few minutes outside the city, amidst fields of crops and popular greenhouses. It’s a pretty setting, reminiscent of the old airfield at Duxford, Oxfordshire– and the flat terrain is perfect for watching an airshow! I attended the 2013 show with my dad and brother, and we watched from a nearby clearing outside of the airport grounds in order to avoid the crowds. Our vantage point was surrounded by a few annoying trees, and we couldn’t see any of the performers’ takeoff runs, but it did turn out to be the best spot we could have possibly picked!

Snowbird Ground GLIAS 2013

A field of something in front of a Snowbird (CT-114 Tutor) preparing for the show

The Snowbirds aerobatic team began the show, which was a bit unusual. I’m used to seeing them more towards the end of an airshow! But they put on a very nice performance; perhaps the best I’ve ever seen from them. There was some cloud cover, but we still had a wonderful view of their manoeuvres, and they performed all around and overhead which was so exciting!

Snowbirds GLIAS 2013

A beautiful sweeping manoeuvre by four Snowbirds

Snowbirds GLIAS 2013 Formation

The Snowbirds are renowned worldwide for their formation flying

Snowbirds GLIAS 2013

Precision and guts are crucial to displays like the Snowbirds’!

Snowbirds GLIAS 2013

A good view of a Snowbird’s distinctive underbelly colouring

Next out, as the sun began to show itself, were the Harvards! A favourite of mine since childhood, the Harvards always impress me.

Harvards Formation GLIAS 2013

The four sunny-yellow Harvards glinting in the sun

Harvard GLIAS 2013

A Harvard coming in for landing. All the airplanes came right past us as they were on approach

Another favourite aircraft present was the C-130 Hercules. A mainstay of the Royal Canadian Air Force for the past 60 years, this enormous plane is used for transporting troops and supplies to even poorly-appointed airfields. Four turboprops power this 38-ton aircraft, which continues to feature strongly in Canada’s military operations.

Herc GLIAS 2013

Very occasionally, a Hercules flies over my house… a real treat!

Herc GLIAS 2013

Hardly the definition of aviation elegance, but I love this aircraft

Following the large and lumbering Hercules, we watched a BAC Strikemaster dance through the air. Used as a trainer and attack aircraft, the Strikemaster is no longer extensively operated, but it has enjoyed some popularity with private owners.

Strikemaster GLIAS 2013

One Rolls-Royce turbojet is enough to provide this small plane with admirable performance

A highlight of the 2013 show was the appearance of a beautifully restored, bare-metal finish B-17. An American icon, the B-17 Flying Fortress was a heavy bomber lauded for its ability to take heavy damage and remain flying. This particular B-17, named Sentimental Journey, served in the Pacific Theatre and was also involved in post-war nuclear tests.

B-17 GLIAS 2013

I’d been really excited to see the B-17!

B-17 Low GLIAS 2013

This was a truly gorgeous plane, and we got some incredible views of it

I hardly thought the show could get better after seeing the B-17… but it could, and it did!! After a few moments of silence, we heard a roar from the direction of the airport. Although we couldn’t see anything, we knew that it could only be one thing- the CF-18 Hornet, Canada’s current fighter jet! Sure enough, it soon zipped past us with a graceful fury that was breathtaking.

Hornet GLIAS 2013

The CF-18 has excellent controllability, even at the high angle of attack demonstrated here

There’s something so amazing about jet-powered aircraft, in particular. The power they possess is insane, and they just amaze me. Even though they lack the history and nostalgia of WWII-era piston-driven aircraft, for example, they have an appeal uniquely their own. I always look forward to the CF-18’s appearance at every airshow!

Hornet GLIAS 2013

I love the vapour coming off the wings’ trailing edges in this photo

Hornet GLIAS 2013

Every year the CF-18 demo team flies a new paint scheme. 2013’s was a nice one, with a prominent maple leaf on the tail

It was during the CF-18’s demonstration that we realized what an exceptional vantage point we had. It’s customary to see a High Alpha pass, several near-vertical climbs, and a gear-down pass from the CF-18 in its performance. The manoeuvre I like the best, however, is the high-speed pass. I imagine the demo pilot must feel the same way- because this is when he gets to roar past the crowd at a speed just barely under Mach 1!

At this airshow, although I was anticipating it, I was hardly ready for the high-speed pass. The CF-18 neared us at an exceptionally low altitude, and before I could believe what was happening, it was directly overhead! The noise was immense, and I was totally shocked by how fast and low it had gone! Fortunately, I’ve overcome the fear of loud noises that plagued me as a child; so I was able to (just) get a photo of the pass instead of covering my ears!

Hornet Low Pass GLIAS 2013

I still marvel at this pass. It was unbelievable

Needless to say, we were very glad that we’d stayed away from the airshow grounds! I’m not sure the lady sitting beside us was so thrilled, however- she made an awful fuss about how loud the Hornet had been.

Hornet GLIAS 2013

 

The Hornet is an ungainly creature with its gears down!

“Stellar” and “exceptional” hardly describe this airshow appropriately! It was just wonderful, and writing about it on this dark December day might have given me just enough satisfaction to hold out until July, when airshows will be held again!

Welcome to Heathrow!

Airports aren’t generally the most beloved of places. For most air travellers, airports are hot, crowded hell-holes of inconvenience and monotony that are unfortunate necessities of modern-day travel. This often holds true for me, as well- because my dad works for an airline, I always travel stand-by and I am never guaranteed a seat on a given flight. This, in addition to the fact that I was terrified of going through security when I was little, means that airports have historically been a source of stress for me. Although I love flying, the stress of airports isn’t so much fun.

However, London Heathrow Airport is different. With the exception of the departures lounge, I love Heathrow; because it means that I’m back in England, and I can finally marvel at the scenery and aircraft instead of worrying about whether or not I’m going to make my flight! Although the overnight flight from Canada can be as uncomfortable and monotonous as waiting in an airport, I always begin to get excited in the last hour or so. The cabin lights are turned back on, everybody wakes up, and breakfast is served- which always seems to make me sick, but no matter; after all, I’m about to arrive in England!

LHR Stack

A stack of aircraft awaiting permission to land at Heathrow. With only two runways and a massive amount of traffic, there can be a bit of a queue for the airport!

It’s really amazing to see anything from the air- it’s a whole new perspective that one just can’t imagine from the ground. And seeing the pretty patchwork fields on approach to Heathrow is even more wonderful. My anticipation always grows when I see how much charm and variety are crammed into such a small place!

English Fields

Villages are nestled among the undulating fields

English River From Above

A snaking river shines in the morning sun

And then, before too long, the fields give way to the concrete and stone of London. But the view is still wonderful- once, a few years ago, I even got a view of Wembley Stadium while we were waiting to land!

London From Above

Tower blocks and green space in West London

Landing at Heathrow brings nothing less than elation to me. London is my favourite place in the world, and I have such a deep attachment to England. Once on the ground, I can’t wait to breeze through the UK customs queue and then step out into the beautiful, petrol-laced morning air of the city!

Heathrow in the Morning

Terminal buildings at Heathrow

Heathrow Tarmac

Taxiing on a lovely English morning

Although not customary for me and my family when in England, renting a car is always fun. Especially because the car lots border the runway area! On my most extensive trip to date (in May/June 2011), we rented a Volkswagen and I had a fantastic time watching aircraft going out while everyone else looked over the car! I guess aircraft-watching must count as a hobby, and it’s certainly among my favourite pastimes.

BA Fleet LHR

Nearly a dozen aircraft of British Airways’ fleet

BMI Take-off LHR

An Airbus A320 of the now-defunct British Midland International

BA Jumbo LHR

A magnificent British Airways jumbo jet

As you can see, this car lot was the perfect place to watch departing aircraft. It always strikes me as strange how commercial airliners aren’t usually thought of as being especially awe-inspiring or high-tech, particularly when compared to military aircraft. Airliners are just commonplace to most people. But once one is standing perhaps 200 yards from an airliner at takeoff power, one realizes how impressive and powerful they truly are!

Qatar A340 LHR

An A340, presumably off to Qatar

AA Gear Up LHR

A great view of the closing main gear doors of this American Airlines 777

BA 777 LHR

Another Boeing 777, this one operated by British Airways

Unlike other airports, Heathrow holds a great many positive memories for me. It was the first feature of England I ever saw, and it’s my own gateway to that wonderful country. Plus, it’s full of aircraft- combine airplanes with England, and things really can’t get much better in my mind!

An Afternoon at Trenton: Part Two

At first glance, a post about a trip to an air force museum might not seem to be completely in keeping with the day after Thanksgiving. However, for me it is; as it encompasses several things I am very grateful for: airplanes, military history, and WWII subjects.

The National Air Force Museum’s interior was very impressive, and the exterior only added to my sense of awe. Although they were just sitting outside on the lawn, the aircraft were beautiful and amazing; and all amongst them were pathways lined with memorial stones. These stones commemorated the service and sacrifices of various units and squadrons, which was touching and appropriate.

Trenton Aircraft Park

A view of the museum’s “aircraft park”. In all, it features around twenty aircraft

A lot of the aircraft were without engines, and many were peeling and rusting. Consequently, the aircraft park had a rather sombre feel to it, and to me it whispered of long-lost glory and forgotten triumphs. That reminded me of World War II in general- since I often feel that the contributions made by both certain countries and individuals are overlooked and forgotten, especially by members of my generation. Still, I’d rather see aging aircraft at a museum like this one than lined up in rows in the Arizona desert. At least this way, they are being honoured.

Trenton Grumman Tracker

A Grumman Tracker in obvious disrepair

Trenton UN Huey

Twin Huey operated by the United Nations. To many, the Huey is a symbol of the Vietnam War

The National Air Force Museum was interesting because it really chronicled the RCAF’s history. In years past, the RCAF operated numerous fighter aircraft at one given time; unlike today, when the fighter fleet is comprised solely of the CF-18 Hornet. At this museum, I was able to see what the RCAF’s line-up used to be like- full of specialized aircraft such as the T-33 Silver Star, F-101 Voodoo, and Canadair CL-90 Starfighter.

Trenton T-33 Silver Star

The Canadair T-33 Silver Star (a licensed variant of the Shooting Star) was a jet trainer known for its reliability and dependability in the hands of even inexperienced pilots

Trenton Argus

One of the greatest anti-submarine/maritime patrol aircraft of the late ’50s, the CP-107 Argus served the RCAF until 1981

Trenton Voodoo

The F-101 Voodoo- a distinctive-looking jet fighter- was part of the RCAF’s Cold War air arsenal, and was nuclear-capable thanks to the AIR-2 Genie rocket

Nearby the supersonic Voodoo was a subsonic (yet impressive!) Hawker Hunter. I have a soft spot for British post-war jet aircraft like the Supermarine Swift and Scimitar and the Hawker Hunter, perhaps because if I ever had the money and the time, a relatively simple jet-powered aircraft like one of these would be on my wishlist!

Trenton Swiss Hawker Hunter

This Hunter was used by the Swiss Air Force. Hunters have been out of service in Switzerland for twenty years now

Trenton Hunter Engine

A peek down the Hunter’s intake revealed that the engine is still in place!

In addition to unusual sights like the Hunter, the National Air Force Museum also had the usual RCAF museum staples: a Bell JetRanger, a C-130 Hercules, and a CF-18. The latter two remain workhorses for the modern RCAF; the Hercules drops troops and supplies as well as transporting things to every corner of the globe, and the CF-18 Hornet is the RCAF’s only remaining fighter jet.

Trenton Jet Ranger

A Bell JetRanger. I’ve seen one of these helicopters at every Canadian Forces base I’ve been to!

Trenton Hercules Nose

A C-130 Hercules; a common sight at Trenton

Trenton Herc

The Hercules is a beast- it’s a huge aircraft and can haul a payload roughly equal to its own weight!

Trenton CF-18

The Hornet is elegant in the air, yet on the ground I think it looks ungainly and rather ill-proportioned due to its long nose

The WWII-era was represented by a Douglas C-47 Skytrain and full-scale replicas of a Spitfire and Hurricane. I was glad that only reproduction, and not original, WWII fighters had been left outside to brave the Canadian elements unprotected!

Trenton C-47

The C-47 will always make me think of Medal of Honor: Airborne!

Trenton Spit Replica

The Spitfire is an exquisite-looking machine, whether original or not

Among all these wonderful airplanes of differing nationalities and eras, I was enjoying myself so much that I lingered perhaps too long; and before I was through the aircraft park my camera batteries died. I was disconsolate, since I hadn’t yet reached the resident MiG-21! I’m so interested in Soviet history and aircraft that I had been planning to look at the MiG last, which turned out to be a folly idea.

Thankfully, I didn’t allow my despondency to deter me, and I simply swapped the positions of my existing batteries. I don’t know if it was a quirk of my camera or a rather handy feature of all batteries, but anyway my camera then turned on long enough to let me take a half-dozen pictures of the MiG!

Trenton MiG-21 Nose

The MiG-21 was a versatile and widely-produced fighter

Trenton MiG-21 Cockpit

The MiG-21 is easily recognizable due to its nose cone, long and thin fuselage, and delta-wing configuration

It was really something to see a MiG-21! Called the “Fishbed” by NATO, this supersonic interceptor has a more vivid moniker thanks to its Soviet pilots- they called it the “balalaika” because its distinctive shape resembled the Russian folk instrument. The MiG-21 was used extensively during the Vietnam War and various African conflicts, and it is still used by over a dozen air forces; including those of several eastern European countries.

The MiG-21 was not without its problems- a notable one was its short range- but it was a simple and robust design. This made it successful and thus desirable as an interceptor; and its high rate of climb, good speed, and low gross weight were among its finest attributes. As well, it’s a beautiful plane! I think it has grace despite the aggressive look of its delta-wing and sharp profile, and it lacks the brutish and rather unrefined appearance of its main Vietnam opponents, the F-4 Phantom II and F-104 Thunderchief.

Trenton MiG-21 Side

The MiG-21 could carry a complement of missiles or bombs

Trenton MiG-21 Emblem

This particular MiG-21 served with the East German Air Force

Seeing the MiG-21 (and managing to get some pictures of it!) put me in a good, if wistful, mood for the rest of the day. For me, that MiG-21 was definitely the highlight of the aircraft park! But another noteworthy fixture was present, and it solidified what I believe to be the spirit of all military museums.

Trenton Memorial Churchill

Winston Churchill’s famous quote, praising the efforts and bravery of the pilots of the RAF during the Battle of Britain

Trenton Memorial Dedication

The dedication on the memorial

Trenton Memorial Shakespeare

A quote now from Shakespeare; speaking of the brotherhood and sacrifice which become so apparent in times of war

For me, military museums exist to educate and to remind new generations of the lessons, trials, and especially achievements, of days past. And the importance of this can’t be underestimated; because without the past, we can’t prepare for the future. But also, we must remember the sacrifices of those who sacrificed for us. Remembering is the least we can do for those who gave so much to ensure our future freedom and well-being, and museums help us to remember.

The National Air Force Museum of Canada was wonderful, and achieved all that I think a military museum should. Thanks to my visit, I learned things I hadn’t known before; I had an exciting time and experienced the thrills and joy of aviation; and I also felt the well-merited reverence and thankfulness for the feats of legendary aircraft and the courageous pilots who fly them.

Trenton Air Crew Memorial